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SOTUNKI: An Island Of Education and Adventure

Author(s): Heidi HEIKKILÄ

Journal: The Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education
ISSN 1302-6488

Volume: 12;
Issue: 3/2;
Start page: 201;
Date: 2011;
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Last year some of the teachers of Sotunki Distance Learning Centre set out to find a new approach to teaching different subjects in Upper Secondary School. We wanted to do this by using social media and finally decided on using Second Life. I think social media like Second Life can offer a lot to our students who study via internet and rarely meet each other or their teachers. In Second Life students can meet their teachers, guidance counselors and fellow students face to face and in real time. This brings more interaction to the learning process and gives the students a chance to get to know each other. Also the interaction in Second Life is slightly different – it gives us teachers a different kind of chance to get to know our students better in a more informal way. There were many decisions to make when we first started building our school. We started by deciding on whether we wanted to have a traditional school building with traditional classrooms in it – and decided against it. Why repeat the real world in Second Life? What is the point of using a virtual world if not to benefit from the possibilities that the real world does not have? So we set out to do something new and extraordinary: instead of a school house we have a mountainous jungle waiting for explorers, and instead of classrooms we have lots of different innovations customized to fit the virtual world. It is important to us that students want to explore our island and learn while exploring it: learning can be a real adventure.I chose the course of history of literature as my project because Second Life has wonderful tools for creating historical settings. Building a pathway came naturally too: the history of literature is linear by nature; a pathway is its natural form. There are plenty of time periods in literature that have distinctive styles but I could not include them all. Finally I decided to build information points for eight different stylistic periods.Information points:Ø amphitheatre and Mount Olympus for Ancient Greece and RomeØ Medieval tavern for Medieval literatureØ Midsummer Night’s fairy cave for RenaissanceØ Robinson Crusoe’s island for 18th century EnlightenmentØ cemetery and crypt for RomanticismØ a small, poor cottage for RealismØ a lighthouse (as in Virginia Woolf’s novel) for ModernismØ a hobbit’s home for PostmodernismIt was crucial that the information points were in chronological order -that way students can “walk” through the history of Western literature themselves instead of just reading about it from a book and chronological order makes it is easier to remember the order of different time periods. I wish to share here the information points to reflect the stylistic periods they presented so it would be easy to learn something of a stylistic period by just looking around: it activates visual memory and helps to connect information with the place where it was found. For instance, students can learn things about 19th century Romanticism in a cemetery and in a mad scientist’s lab and remember that the era was not all about sweet, romantic dreams about love and more about monsters, death and mad scientists -and love with ruinous consequences.On every information point there are both theory and exercises available. There is at least one big board that holds the most important information about that time period written on it. When a student clicks on a board he gets an English translation and all the board’s information on a Notecard that can be saved in the student’s personal inventory. Then he can for instance go to sit on a beach, watch a sunset and study.Most of the information points have “talking” objects, by which I mean objects with scripts in them: when you click them, the object sends a chat-message with some information about literature. Below every information board there is an object (usually an apple) and by clicking it a student gets a set of questions about that time period. Student will find answers to those questions by walking around that information point: the information is written in the info boards and hidden as chat-messages in different objects. After finding all the answers, students write them on a Note card and send that to the teacher. All of these tools work independently without teacher’s presence 24 hours a day, which is necessary as our students are mainly adults with jobs, children and busy lives. Adventure is a big part of the theme of our island and in our project the emphasis was on learning by experiencing. The literature history pathway needed to fit the general atmosphere of the island and every information point had to contain not only information but also humor and interesting details that help the student stay motivated and eager to learn more.One of the ways in which I hoped to create the feeling of an adventure is that all the information points are located on different places on the island; you cannot see the next information point from the previous one. A student follows the red brick path from one “classroom” into the other though forests, mountains and caves: the island around him is visually beautiful and versatile with plenty to see and experience. Sometimes it is also possible to add a little adventure with a simple decision: a student can choose alternative way of travelling. For instance, he can take a raft from Robinson Crusoe’s Island to the mainland or ride on a seahorse from Renaissance to Enlightenment.
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